Last week I received an email. Don’t ask me who from, because I can’t find it anywhere now. It might not even have even been an email. It might have been a tweet, or a sponsored post on Facebook… or a figment of my imagination! But whatever it was, it lured me in with the headline “5 free lunches!” – who’s not going to click on that, right?
It took me to a piece about a new lunch ordering service called MealPal. It’s not actually new – turns out it has been helping hungry Americans pre-order their lunches for a while, but it has only just reached London. It is both an app and a website and you pay up front for your subscription plan, though whatever it was I clicked on allowed me to try out MealPal for free for 5 consecutive week-days.
Ordinarily however, MealPal offers two subscriptions:
Lunch a Lot: Up to 20 meals per 30-day cycle, £4.39 per meal, including VAT and fees.
Lunch a Bunch: Up to 12 meals per 30-day cycle, £4.79 per meal, including VAT and fees.
Your subscription covers 100% of the cost of your meal. There are no additional charges when you pick up your food.
After creating your MealPal account you are able to start reserving your lunch, one day at a time. The MealPal kitchen opens daily at 17:00 and closes at 09:30 the next morning – in that time is when you reserve your meals. Each restaurant offers one meal item per day which you can’t customise (it makes it all simpler) and at the moment these restaurants can be found in Soho and The City.
Your meal will be ready and waiting for you at your designated pick up time. Skip the line, tell the restaurant you are with MealPal, and enjoy your lunch! It really is that simple.
So what did I get to enjoy in my 5 day free trial of MealPal?
Day 1 (Friday): Chicken & Avocado Hummus Bowl from Hummus Bros. on Wardour Street
I adore Hummus Bros. Have done for years. They serve the smoothest, most indulgent hummus I have ever had the pleasure of trying. They scoop an extremely generous amount of hummus into the bowl, create a crevice and start loading in the fillings. There was only one option on my first day, the chicken and avocado filling, which is one I would have chosen regardless! The chicken is sautéed in a light tomato sauce, ripe avocado blended with crunchy red peppers, tomatoes & red onions. I received a “regular portion” which came with two fluffy pitta breads (again, some of the best pitta I’ve ever enjoyed) and is usually priced at £6.85, so with the MealPal subscription it is already cheaper. Regular is actually a very big portion and I could have shared this with someone had I not been such a greedy pig that day – incredibly good value for money if you’re on the MealPal subscription and getting it for less than a fiver!
Day 2 (Monday): Spicy Ahi Raw Slaw Bowl from Island Poke on Kingly Street
I had never tried Island Poke before, and only actually enjoyed a poke bowl once before (and to be honest hadn’t been all that impressed) but I fancied trying something different (which was one of the great things about this trial) and this dish looked the most tempting for the day. I arrived and the queue was out the door. This place is clearly very popular, and it’s small, not really space to eat in (to be honest I didn’t even notice if there is seating available) but it has been decorated beautifully, with amazing fish scale blue and green tiling and south pacific murals across the wall. And the itself bowl was great, usually retailing for around the £7.50 mark, the tuna was gorgeously fresh and the slaw had a great crunch. There were also a few slices of pineapple hidden in there which gave it a lovely sweet kick, alongside the charred corn and the thick cut chilis. This’ll be a great lunch spot in the Summer months.
Day 3 (Tuesday): The Falaffel & Hummus bowl from Hummus Bros. on Wardour Street
I wasn’t in town on the Tuesday so I gifted my lunch to my step-mum to try. Before she left the office on Monday we scrolled through the menu together to choose what she was going to pick up for her lunch. I prevented her from ordering the most boring, sad looking Falaffel salad and steered her in the direction of Hummus Bros (still having the memory of my delicious lunch the previous week in my head) – her report back was that the portion was too big for her but it was delicious, though obviously full fat hummus – well of course, that’s the best kind! This bowl would also usually cost £6.85.
Day 4 (Wednesday): Pork Belly ‘Koorang’ Style from Cinnamon Soho on Kingly Street
For me, this was the best dish of the entire week, with sublime spicy flavours that tickled rather than assaulted the mouth. There was a sweetness to it all, like a rich, chilli syrup that coated the chunky pork belly which was tender and juicy. The curried yoghurt on the side was cooling but still had a strong flavour part to play, and the large chunks of pepper and onion gave a snap of texture. I scraped this bowl clean and actually hoped it would be repeated on the following day’s menu options. It sadly wasn’t, but it has certainly made a future customer out of me for the restaurant, where i’ll be able to order this dish for £7.
Day 5 (Thursday): Jalapeno Mac & Cheese with Fries from Absurd Bird, Peter Street Soho
Usually I wouldn’t have such a carb heavy meal for my lunch, but when it came to the choices available to me on my final day there wasn’t anything that really struck me. I have heard good things about Absurd Bird (mostly about their poultry dishes) so I chose what they were offering for the day: The Mac & Cheese (in restaurant this is £5.80), and was intrigued by their inclusion of jalapenos – a fun addition that I have enjoyed elsewhere in the past. It was waiting on the counter for me when I arrived to collect and I was back in my office dining room within 5 minutes after, however by that point, the chips (usually £3.75) were limp and cold. Not too fussed by them anyway, I cast them aside and enjoyed the Mac & Cheese which was still hot. The Jalapeno made for a nice kick and it was good and cheesy, but I couldn’t help but think back to my Wednesday lunch and this just didn’t compare. I guess the problem is this is usually a starter dish and it was clearly missing something else – texture, protein… it just didn’t work as a lunch for me.
So is MealPal worth it? Yes, i’d say so. There is an obvious discount provided on your lunches, saving you about £3 per meal (based on you going in store and paying the usual price at the counter) and the variety is very good – they have some great restaurants on board (over 100) and it’s a nice way to try places you wouldn’t have usually thought to grab your lunch. It’s certainly a time saver and means you don’t have to wander aimlessly around Soho on a lunch time trying to decide what to eat.
I wouldn’t subscribe to the full month option (although it does make it cheaper) because i’m not based in London every day of the week and some lunches would go to waste, but I think the 12 lunches in a month option is good for the days you want something more than a dull sandwich from Pret. If you like forward planning, MealPal is the lunch option for you.